“As the month was going on I knew just from the call volume that we were getting in the office that the number was getting high,” said Jeffrey Putnam, executive director for American Red Cross of Northwest Georgia. “We’re just getting nearly a call every day and then there’s some days where we’re getting two or three calls a day for assistance. So, especially the week of Thanksgiving, I looked up the numbers from last year and I’m like, ‘This is amazing. This is so unusual that we’re getting this many calls.’ So last year, for the month of November 2012, we had 13 calls and ... we actually ended the month [this year] with 29 house fire calls [and we assisted] 105 [people].
“... A lot of this is weather-related. We had that really bad cold spell that came through, and unfortunately people haven’t been preparing their heaters or whatnot. It had been really warm up until that cold snap. So a big thing that we’re really pushing is that people ... [have] got to really watch out for their heat, make sure that their fireplace chimneys have been cleaned out, the heaters are clean. Follow the general fire precautions that there’s no clothing, nothing flammable around their heaters and make sure their smoke detectors are working,” he said, adding each family also needs to implement and practice an emergency plan at their residence. “Unfortunately one of these fires that we responded to last month had a fatality up in Catoosa County. Our hearts just went out to that family.”
Providing assisting to each call are members of the chapter’s Disaster Action Team, which consists of 100 active volunteers.
“The majority of our volunteers on [the Disaster Action Team] are retirees and ... when we have a fire call come in, they’re the ones that we notify,” Putnam said. “They go out to the scene and meet with the folks who may have lost their home or had it damaged so bad they can’t stay there.
“They meet with them and the first thing that they’re there for is to provide that comforting hand, to let them know there’s someone there for them, that someone is there to help guide them and tell them what they need to do and provide that guiding hand [regarding] the steps and the process of recovery. Then, they’ll work with them to find out what their needs are and the Red Cross — our mission is to provide the immediate assistance,” he said, referring to shelter, food, clothing and medical prescriptions.
Currently in his third year as a DAT volunteer, Charlie Pitchford responded to two of Bartow’s seven single-family home fires in November that required Red Cross assistance. The retired Bartow County resident said serving the Red Cross in this capacity enables him to stay active in the community and help people on a volunteer basis.
“There are two members of our Disaster Action Team that respond to a single family fire,” Pitchford said. “We immediately report to ... whoever is in charge of the fire department. They kind of give us a heads-up on what happened, the extent of the damage and then we meet with the family that’s involved right then. ... Their life is completely turned upside down because their home has received damage. It could be minor damage. It could be major. It could be totally destroyed. But no one can prepare themselves for that. So they are at a loss as [far as] what do I do now.
“Now if they have family in the area, of course, that’s one of their immediate places that they can turn for assistance. That’s always helpful to have loved ones who are right there with you, but in some cases they do not have any family. So we’re there and our purpose at that point is to provide immediate assistance because they don’t know where to turn, what to do. We can show up and talk to them, provide some level of comfort, assurance that we can help them immediately with a place to stay, and in some cases, they might be on medication as far as prescription meds and that might have been damaged or destroyed in the fire. We can even work with pharmacists and doctors to provide some immediate prescription medicines for them in addition to housing and clothing and food.”
For more information about the American Red Cross of Northwest Georgia’s services or to make a Red Cross donation, visit www.nwgaredcross.org or call 706-291-6648. To view additional Red Cross’ fire safety and preparedness details, visit www.redcross.org/homefires.